Family requests prayers for girl
11-year-old daughter still hospitalized, connected to tubes
April 15, 2011
By Kristy MacKaben (For the Mirror) , The Altoona Mirror
March 23 was a stormy day with high winds, rain and hail pounding some areas, while a tornado touched down not far away in Westmoreland County.
The tumultuous weather might have been a foreshadowing of events to come for the Sweeney family of Duncansville, whose youngest child, 11-year-old Regina, ended up hospitalized in Pittsburgh that night with a life-threatening illness.
In the three weeks since, Regina's parents, Kathy and Dr. Gregory Sweeney, have remained faithfully upbeat and thankful to God and the community that rallied behind them.
A medical enigma
Regina began breathing rapidly after developing a fever the night before, and her parents took her to the emergency room at Altoona Regional Health System, Altoona Hospital Campus. Kathy Sweeney said the doctors noticed her daughter's lungs weren't working properly and recommended Regina be taken to Children's Hospital in Pittsburgh.
The storms prevented a medical helicopter transport, so Regina was rushed by ambulance to Pittsburgh. There, the doctors began a battery of tests.
"Every department except Orthopedics has been in here trying to figure it out," she said from Regina's bedside in Pittsburgh. "She's been poked and prodded, and she's just so innocent."
Eventually doctors determined Regina had influenza, which led to a staph infection in her lungs. She's hooked up to a blood bypass machine and a ventilator. She has had surgery to remove blood clots in her left lung, is on blood thinners and at one point had four chest tubes. Regina's mother said she is weak on her left side, so doctors are unsure whether she might have suffered a stroke.
Sweeney said the doctors are keeping Regina sedated to lessen her pain and alleviate any fear she might experience if she were awake.
"When she wakes up, she's so scared. She's so traumatized," Sweeney said. "The lungs are painful, the chest tubes are painful and the tube is down her throat. Unfortunately, I'm getting used to it."
Her mother said Regina has begun to improve this week. She is down to two chest tubes, and there's a chance she might be able to get off the bypass machine.
Part of God's plan
The Sweeneys' seven other children - Bridget, 25, Theresa, 23, Kevin, 21, Brian, 20, James, 18, Brendan, 15, and Aidan, 13 - are trying to make sense of what has happened to their sister and help their parents at the same time. Greg Sweeney had to return to work, but Kathy Sweeney is staying in the Ronald McDonald House in Pittsburgh. The children who still live at home are staying with friends.
She said everyone in the family is trying to see the good in the experience.
Every night, Kathy Sweeney said she recites Regina's four favorite prayers by her bedside: "Angel of God," "Hail Mary," "Act of Contrition" and "Our Father."
"These are simple prayers that are close to her heart," she said.
Family friend Tracey Ingold of Cresson said people everywhere are praying for the Sweeneys.
"They're such a wonderful family, a faith-filled family. What an example they are setting through this whole thing," Ingold said.
St. Patrick's Catholic Church in Newry, which the family attends, has held a rosary vigil every night since Regina was hospitalized. Local churches and synagogues have also raised money and started prayer chains. A Facebook page, Pray for Regina Sweeney, had close to 2,000 members Wednesday. Kathy Sweeney regularly posts updates there, and supporters post words of encouragement and prayers.
"I'm getting cards and books and letters from all over the world. It is amazing how far-reaching these prayers are going. It's uniting all the faithful," she said.
The Sweeneys stress that what they really need are prayers.
"Prayers are the highest priority right now," Kathy Sweeney said.
Beyond the prayers
Two fundraisers are planned this weekend to help the family with expenses.
Regina's uncle, Larry Sweeney of Latrobe, is planning a spaghetti dinner from 4 to 7 p.m. Saturday at Living Hope Church in Whitney. Tickets are $6 for adults and $3 for children.
"Prayers are first. We're asking for prayers, but we did set up a little account at one of the banks for Regina," Larry Sweeney said. Checks can be made out to Regina Sweeney and sent in care of Larry Sweeney to 1320 Waverly Drive, Latrobe, PA 15650.
"They're so willing to help others over the years and people are just willing to help and give back," he said.
Another spaghetti dinner is planned by family friend Jeanine Campagna of Hollidaysburg for 5 p.m. Sunday at the Cresson American Legion. Along with dinner, there will be music and a silent auction.
"I wanted it to be a fantastic event for the family. I wanted them to see the love and support and prayers for the family," Campagna said.
Hoping for a miracle
As Holy Week approaches, the Sweeney family hopes a miracle is waiting.
Little miracles have already happened in the weeks since Regina was admitted to Children's Hospital.
"As many times as her heart rate went down or she was bleeding from the tubes, I sent out a text for prayers and they [the doctors] found a solution every time," Kathy Sweeney said.
On Tuesday night, doctors at Children's were considering moving Regina to a different unit because of staffing issues. The family was comfortable with the nurses where she was, though, and didn't want her to be moved.
"My heart sunk and I told them I was not comfortable with it," Kathy Sweeney wrote on the Facebook page. After much discussion, Regina was able to able to stay on the floor.
"I finally cried with relief. The nurses are so awesome. I really did not want to start over. ... Jesus I Trust in You!" Kathy Sweeney wrote.
The Sweeneys are hoping their big miracle will come someday soon.
"I think she brought a lot of people closer to God," Kathy Sweeney said. "The nurses think she's the most blessed patient. That's what I tell her. If I didn't have all this support and prayer, I'd be weeping every moment. I just feel so positive. I want everyone to know her story and pray for her. We can't wait for everybody to meet her. When she's better, we'll have one big party."http://www.altoonamirror.com/page/conte ... ml?nav=742